BODIES: Able Bus & Coach

By: Jamie Wade


Perth-based manufacturer Able Bus & Coach is helping school kids travel huge distances in the Kimberley

BODIES: Able Bus & Coach
The operators hold 12 ‘orange’ school bus contracts in the Kimberley region, with up to 16 drivers covering more than 1,900km transporting 300 children each day

Ensuring the safety, comfort and security of its young passengers is paramount to business partners Azman Bin Omar, Mark O’Keeffe and Paul O’Keeffe who operate school buses in the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia.

"When travelling precious cargo vast distances over rough terrain in weather conditions you cannot afford to have too many problems with your buses," the operators say.

Bin Omar and the O’Keeffes operate 12 school bus contracts in the Fitzroy Crossing, Halls Creek and Broome region.

Their fleet with up to 16 drivers covers more than 1,900km and transports more 300 children every school day. 

"Each contract is unique to operate in their own right as the Kimberley region is so diverse, with daily challenges such as severe heat, flooding, extremely poor unsealed roads and lengthy delays for essential services and supplies because of the isolation," the operators say.

The fleet is now purpose built for each contract and comprises coaches, coasters and four-wheel drive vehicles.

When the operators bought their business in early 2000, many buses were not suited to the road conditions they faced.

With assistance from the Public Transport Authority of Western Australia (PTA) in understanding their unique business needs, the operators decided to change certain vehicles.

They approached Able Bus & Coach in 2009 to help replenish their fleet of vehicles after they noticed the bus builder’s unique models driving through Fitzroy Crossing. 

Vehicles that could cope with the harsh Kimberly environment was a key factor in the decision to invest in Able Bus & Coach.

WEARING CONDITIONS

Wear and tear from the harsh Kimberley conditions rapidly took its toll on foreign-made buses owned by the operators.

A key factor in their decision to invest in Able Bus & Coach was confidence that the vehicles would adhere to school bus standard specifications.

In the Kimberley air-conditioning is a must have. The enclosed air-conditioning cabin with the Able Bus & Coach models particularly impressed the operators.

Able Bus & Coach founder and Managing Director Kevin de Bruin says the buses were perfectly suited to the remote Kimberley environment.

"The safety features and stability are particularly appealing and the vehicles’ ground clearance makes them ideal for driving in and out of pits and accessing haul roads washed out with water," de Bruin says.

He grew the company from humble beginnings 17 years ago as a 4WD tour company for people with disabilities to today manufacturing buses and coaches.

"Initially Able Bus & Coach – then Able Tours – provided 4WD adventure type tours throughout WA for people with disabilities," de Bruin says. 

"Tours to the Pilbara and Kimberley regions were particular favourites and I soon realised that even though I had the best vehicle available at the time, it wasn’t able to cope with the harsh conditions of the North West and was struggling to do the job. 

"I then designed and built Able Tour’s first purpose-built 4WD coach."

The company’s remote area coaches proved to be an outstanding success. From referrals and word of mouth, orders grew rapidly and de Bruin’s business shifted from tour operator to manufacturer.

"In the early years the focus wasn’t on becoming a manufacturer, but after demand increased for Australian made coaches that could cope with Australian conditions, our tour business morphed into an Australian coach manufacturing company and we changed the company name to Able Bus & Coach," de Bruin says.

MINING AND CONSTRUCTION

From a company that commenced to meet an individual need in Perth, the business has grown to be a provider of vehicles and coaches to some of the largest mining and civil companies throughout Australia. 

Testament to the company’s philosophy of building tough yet safe, reliable and comfortable vehicles that meet the highest standards for customers such as BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Nationwide Hire, Able Bus & Coach now has a repeat business rate of 90 percent.

"The design and manufacture of these buses and coaches has enabled both large and small companies to provide their employees with a safe, reliable and comfortable vehicle at an affordable price," de Bruin says.

A key factor to the company’s success has been a hands-on approach from the owner.

With a first-hand understanding of the conditions faced on locations where the vehicles are required from his experience as a tour operator, de Bruin is constantly in touch with those who use the vehicles. 

"While it’s been tempting at times to look to cheaper options with parts and pre-fabricated vehicles from overseas, the benchmark has also been high quality using local suppliers who also understand Australian conditions. This principal has kept us strong," de Bruin says. 

"Also, rather than being tempted to be too hungry to increase our output at greater rate and compromising on quality, care has been taken to expand at a rate that keeps up with demand without reducing quality and care.

"Flexibility to meet the demands of our different markets without having to make large and expensive changes to our original design and manufacturing process has enabled us to include newer markets that approach us."

ROBUST AND READY

Able Bus & Coach manufactures a variety of 4WD and two-wheel drive mine site and tour coaches with seating capacity between 10 to 50 people. A key proposition of the vehicles is robustness.

Extensive safety features also come standard with the coaches. These include internal roll over protection with Australian Design Rule 59 and rollover protection system (ROPS) to Australian Standards 1636.1 and 2294.2, full size coach seats with seat belts and driver’s airbag.

Another key feature of the coaches is interchangeability with passenger modules that can be removed from older cab chassis and placed on a new cab chassis reducing replacement costs for companies.

The company’s vehicle brand of choice is Isuzu for its after-sales service. The tilt cab of the chassis also allows easy maintenance and access to the motor. A higher ground clearance than a conventional bus chassis is also ideal for mine site and remote outback areas.

With temperatures often exceeding 40C in many remote mine sites, air-conditioners designed and built for extreme heat and vibration come standard.

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